Darn and Double Darn: The Multi-tasker Mindset
I’m driving to the airport this beautiful autumn afternoon. I could be listening to my Italian lesson CD to make good use of time, but a pressing assignment is calling forth my multi-tasking prowess. What better way to write a blogpost about multi-tasking than to be in the act as I roar down the freeway, exercising my already-perfected skill of writing on a clipboard while keeping one hand on the wheel and both eyes on the road?
Long drives are richly productive times for me. There’s something about the act of sitting still while moving fast that fires my synapses into high creative gear. Whether it’s free-flowing ideas or a particular topic to flesh out, I can fill page after page of slanting scribble and gnarled words in the expression of prolific thoughts. My penmanship has never been pretty even with perfect posture, proper lighting and a pricey writing instrument, so deciphering the messages and the order of those dozen or so loose-leaf pages all over the passenger seat and floor of my car is always a challenge. Writing while driving is my principal multi-task to further my writing career, but it’s only one tenth of my multi-tasking pie.
I start each day convinced I have adequate blocks of time to dedicate to my big projects, and the same thing happens every time: Life gets in the way in the form of emails, social media, the need to eat and do the laundry, children and animals that beg for attention, and phone calls. Every major project requires quality focused attention, but life’s big and little necessities must be dealt with too. That’s where the other ninety percent of my multi-task capital is invested. I’m not one for hours-long phone calls, but there are a few people with whom it’s unavoidable. When one of them calls, it can go either way: “How frustrating! Aunt Bea phoned and I heard about her bee-keeping manual for two hours,” or “Aunt Bea called to chat about Bee Bliss, and you wouldn’t believe what I accomplished in those two hours! The dishwasher got unloaded, the veggies are prepped for dinner, I folded the laundry and polished the chandelier for the first time ever, the sliding door runners are sparkling clean, sixty dollars in quarters are rolled and ready for deposit, hundreds of old emails are now deleted, there’s freshly juiced grapefruit in the fridge, I filled fifty gelatin capsules with organic turmeric to ward off inflammation and chopped a bowlful of ginger to improve digestion, I touched up the black canvas on my old espadrilles with permanent marker, filed my nails, ironed two shirts, brushed the cat, and best of all, I saved at least twenty dollars by darning the toes of my socks!”
Every one of those aforementioned multitasks I have accomplished during long phone calls, and here’s the secret: I keep a list of some “back-burner”, fairly mindless chores taped to the door of my home office. When Aunt Bee rings, instead of my mood progressing from warmth, to boredom, to anxiety, I look forward to a sweet chat during a productive hour. I actually do learn secrets from this most enthusiastic lover of bees, and I have a drawerful of darned socks, plus extra time to devote to the big projects as satisfying proof that selective multi-tasking works.
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Foreign language educator, author, speaker, and newspaper columnist on words, language, cultures, and travel, Susanna Janssen is a master teacher and enthusiastic crusader for second language learning at any age to benefit one’s brain, career, bank account, and world view. She is a passionate advocate for developing a lifelong devotion to reading—a love affair that promises to be ever fresh and stimulating. Susanna continues to teach Spanish and Italian, coach foreign language learners on skill development and fluency, and inspire people of all ages and interests to keep reaching for another satisfying read.